One fateful night, a child named Adeline lies alone in the snow. Fading into sleep, her only warmth comes from her matches and the embers of her hidden magic. As she succumbs to the cold of death, she is saved by Rompell, a stranger from a land of deserts and magic with secrets of his own.
Their lives intertwined, Rompell and Adeline become father and daughter. As Adeline becomes an elegant young woman, she fights to control and hide her growing magic in a world full of handsome young men, fine dresses, and her own grand romance.
When an enemy arises from the shadows of Rompell’s past, with ancient spells and dangerous magic, Rompell and Adeline risk losing all they have built together. As Rompell fights to protect his daughter, it may be Adeline who must risk revealing her powers and losing true love to save her father.
The Matchgirl and the Magician is the third book in The Pippington Tales and mixes Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Matchgirl, Rumplestiltskin, the legend of King Midas, and the magic of the Arabian Nights.
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Frigid air gusted down the alleyway, blasting through Adeline’s threadbare dress and shawl. Clouds heavy with snow shadowed the moon. Most of Pippington’s citizens were bundled in their homes, sitting by warm hearths. The child huddled against a brick wall, cradling the crate of matches in her slender arms, her legs shaking. Tears threatened to come. Adeline had never been so cold in all her nine years. But, she swallowed back her tears and clamped her chattering teeth together.
Too many matches remained unsold. She had done her best, singing to catch the attention of those passing by as she walked main boulevards. A few shouted her away. Others smiled sadly, bought a few matches, and said, “Poor child,” before walking on and forgetting her.
As evening came, she shuffled her way back to Mr. Torvald’s and her bed of a moth-eaten quilt. He grumbled as she poured the few coins onto the table, adding up to only a few skoons. She cringed just before he slapped her jaw. His face was red as he grabbed her by the arm and tossed her down the front steps.
“This is no charity house. Come back when you’ve sold enough.”
Hours had passed since and her face and arm still throbbed. She had sold a few more matches, but they wouldn’t be enough.
Rocking, she tried to rub the cold from her legs. She couldn’t go back and so had come here, across the street from her father’s statue. His bronze eyes watched over her, his metal face strong and heroic. She lit another match and sang into it. Perhaps, with enough magic, she could turn the statue into her father.
He would lift her up and laugh. They would waltz around the square and he would take her home.
The match’s flame disappeared and, wishing she knew how to conjure fire, she lit another.
Only a few months before, she had stood beside her mother as the statue was unveiled. Women in furs and silk handed them a mountain of flowers, pouring out condolences. She posed as her mother told her to, trying to understand the crowd and ribbons. When she asked one of the women what these decorations were for, they pinched her cheek and tapped her nose.
“Your father was a brave, brave fire brigade officer and saved many lives.”
Adeline knew why her father was gone. She didn’t understand how flowers and ribbons would stop her mother from weeping every night.
During the ceremony, Adeline’s grandfather stood apart with her two uncles, taking in speeches about her father’s final heroic deeds and thank-you’s for funding the statue. Her grandfather and uncles said nothing to her or her mother. Once the ceremony was over, Adeline’s mother said, “We are better off without their help.”
A shudder of cold ran through Adeline, bringing her attention back to the alleyway. Her hand shook as she lit another match. Images of monsters rose in the illuminated shadows. Adeline sang, focusing only on the flame and its small warmth. It flickered in the wind. She held her hand over it, the flame biting her skin. The fire spread out with her song, as if carried by the soft notes. Her mother had taught her this trick one night when there was little wood for the fire. They had huddled together as their songs carried magic into the flames, helping them grow.
Horse hooves echoed down the street. Adeline blew out the match and huddled in the darkness.
“Never show anyone your magic,” her mother had said. “They don’t believe in it and won’t understand.”
Adeline waited till the carriage passed and the echoes were far away. Taking in a few breaths, she took another match from the pile. She shouldn’t use what she was supposed to sell, but the warmth was so inviting.
Striking the match against the wall, she sang and focused on the fire. A feast of goose, potatoes, rolls, pie, and everything delicious arose in the flames. Her mother was at one end, her cheeks pink and full as they had once been. Adeline’s father sat at the other end, tall and proud. Her parents smiled at her before disappearing in the smoke of the burnt-out match. She flicked the splinter of wood away. Flakes of ash floated, mingling with the falling snow.
The alleyway seemed darker and emptier. She struck three matches against the wall. Her voice shook as she sang out the melody. She had to recapture her father’s smile. The flame flickered, revealing an image of her parents lying in caskets, their faces pale and stiff. She tried to sing the illusion away, but her teeth chattered. The flame started to move, flickering with images of her mother and father dancing. Her mother wore a fine dress with feathers and glittering jewelry. Her father was in a suit, his hair smooth, his face handsome.
Her father had promised always to protect her but had chosen to save others instead. He had gone into the flaming building one last time and it collapsed in a cloud of sparks and ash. Months passed, and winter came and stole her mother away. Adeline shut her eyes, trying to forget waking to her mother’s still face only a few weeks before.
The chill settled deeper into Adeline’s skin as she curled up on the cobblestone, her cheek to the pavement. Her eyelids drooped. If she fell asleep, she would wake in her parents’ arms, wrapped in a thick quilt as they sat by the fire. They would laugh and sing, telling her stories of far off adventures. She would be far away from the frost stiffening her clothes.
The matches burnt out and the warmth of her dream left. She shut her eyes tight, trying to grab onto the dream instead of the pain tingling in her fingers. She sang, her voice little more than a whisper. The song would keep her warm as she faded into rest.
Footsteps crunched in the alleyway and Adeline tried to open her eyes. Hands wrapped her threadbare shawl around her quivering frame. The stranger rubbed her hands between his until her fingers uncurled. In the dim starlight, he pulled one of the matches from her crate and struck it against the wall.
Her eyes opened. The stranger’s face was warm-brown, like earthen clay. Snow weighed on his dark hair and goatee. His kind eyes reminded her of how her father had looked at her.
“Little One,” he said, his Sandarian accent coloring his words with the warmth of far-off deserts. “What are you doing here alone?”
Her jaw was frozen. The Sandarian removed his overcoat, revealing a layer of jackets and scarves beneath. Taking the crate of matches, he wrapped his coat around her.
He pulled her slender body into his arms, cradling her like a bird with a broken wing, and held the crate by its strap. Though he was a stranger, she nestled her face into the warmth of his shoulder.
Her face began to thaw as they entered the street. They passed the echo of people singing in a bar and the clatter of hooves from carriages. Her head fell as sleep overcame her. She woke as a rush of warm air hit her. The click of silverware against plates and a rumble of voices marked a full dining hall.
They returned to the freezing night air. Another street was passed and another building entered. Adeline absorbed the heat until “no room” was repeated. The Sandarian walked on. At the fifth place, a Sandarian woman said, “There’s space by the fire.”
She led them to a table.
“Poor child,” she said with a warm smile before stepping away.
The man gently pulled his heavy coat from Adeline’s shoulders, but left his scarf around her. As he sat, the woman returned and set down plates of steaming food.
The man broke his bread, indicating to Adeline to use it with a spoon to scoop up the pile of rice and chicken. She followed his example as best she could with her small, shaking fingers. Once she shoved food into her mouth, her senses were filled with the warm spices and rich aroma. She had never tasted anything like this in her nine years.
“Madame Pomray makes a fine curry, does she not?” He smiled at Adeline. “I am Rompell.”
Eyeing his gloved hands, she said, “Adeline Winkleston.”
He touched his forehead and made a bowing motion with his arm. “I am blessed to meet you, Miss Adeline.”
Adeline tried to hide her blush as she pulled his scarf tighter around her slim shoulders.
“And why is a little one like you wandering the streets on a night when fire might freeze?”
She looked at her small crate of matches. Though she was warmer, she trembled. She glanced at the fire and envisioned Torvald’s red, fuming face.
Rompell picked up a few matches from the crate and held them between his fingers. “You are selling these? For how much?”
“A penny for three.” She prodded her food with her spoon as she yawned. The fire was warm and she was so tired.
Rompell held the matches on his palm and closed his fist around them. He waved his other hand over it and opened his palm to reveal a penny where the matches had been.
“I seem to have lost them,” he said. She gaped as he dropped the penny into her hand. “That is the price, is it not?”
She nodded. The penny felt whole and real. She put it into her money sack. The coin clinked against the floor. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared through the bag and the hole at the bottom.
“May I see?” Rompell said.
She handed him the bag. He poured out the few remaining pennies on the table. “And how many matches have you sold?”
“I―I don’t know.” She wiped her face with the napkin, trying to hide her tears.
Rompell pulled out a handkerchief and set it on the table in a pyramid shape. He slapped his hand down, crushing it. Coins showered from the cloth onto the table.
She stared at his gloved hands. It appeared to be magic, but she didn’t sense the tingling on her skin like when her mother had used her powers.
Laying out the cloth, he said, “I’ll tell you what we will do, Miss Adeline. I will give you this handkerchief to carry these coins in return for a joke.”
“You do know one, don’t you?” He raised his eyebrows. “I should warn you, I expect it to be a good one. What say you, Miss Adeline?”
She stared at him. Her father always told jokes, but the memory flitted away every time she tried to think of one.
Rompell’s eyes softened. “We will wait on the joke. Let’s finish eating and get you home. I am sure your papa and mama are looking for you.”
Adeline stirred her curry, trying to hide fresh tears. She looked at Rompell’s warm face. “They cannot.”
Rompell’s smile disappeared. “Are they gone?”
Adeline’s throat clenched as she nodded.
“What was your father’s name?”
She licked her lips. “Conrad.”
“A brave name.”
“And your mother?”
Her shoulders shook as sobs threatened to take over. “Mariana.”
Rompell set down his spoon. “How long have they been gone?”
Tears streamed along her cheeks. She fought through a few hiccups to say, “Father’s been gone months, but Mother―She was right beside me, and then she was taken―taken away.”
She crumpled in her chair, all her fear, all her loneliness collapsing in on her. Rompell knelt beside Adeline. His gloved hand wiped away her tears as his eyes remained steady and calm.
“Your parents can never be taken away.” He pressed his palm to her shoulder. “They are always with you if you are willing to remember them.” He waved his gloved hand in the air. “I believe I saw them watching over you as you sang in the alleyway.”
Her eyes widened and she went still. She had hidden her powers, just as her mother had taught her. He shouldn’t have seen it.
Rompell leaned forward and whispered, “Those who have been touched by magic can see far more than those who have not.”
He rolled his fingers and a flash of flame followed.
“Eat, Little One.”
Her tears ebbed and she devoured the plate of curry. Once finished, she wiped the sides with her piece of bread, gathering the last drops. Madame Pomray stopped by and cleared their dishes. Rompell touched the woman’s arm and spoke softly in Sandarian. She smiled and gave a quick nod.
Minutes later, she set a small chocolate cake in front of Adeline, steam rising from the plate.
“My gift for your company,” Rompell said.
Adeline hesitated before digging her fork in. Molten chocolate spilled onto the plate. Her stomach was nearly full as she took the first bite. The rich chocolate was sweet and powerful. In moments, the cake was gone and she stared at the chocolate residue.
“Go ahead,” Rompell whispered.
She licked up the final crumbs. Madame Pomray returned and laughed.
“Enjoy it, did she?”
“It was excellent, Madame.” Rompell laid cash and coin on the table. “Thank you for your kindness and warm room.”
He led Adeline to the door and knelt beside her. “Little One, where do you call home?”
Adeline shook as her lip quivered again. “I―I don’t have―”
“Do you have family nearby? An aunt or uncle? A grandparent?”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t want me.”
“But he must be worried.”
She shook her head as she wiped her eyes with Rompell’s scarf.
“He hates me and Mother. He says we’re why Father―”
Rompell squeezed her arm. “Then, not there. Where have you been living?”
“I can’t―” She swallowed back a sob. “Mr. Torvald―he’ll be angry.”
“Who is Mr. Torvald?”
“Mom needed a room for us.” Adeline forced herself to finish, “He lets me stay there, if I work.”
Narrowing his eyes, Rompell said, “Is he the one who sent you out to sell matches?”
Her throat too tight to speak, she nodded. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and the thin fabric fell back. Rompell’s smile turned into a hard line as he rolled back the sleeve further, revealing dark bruises along her arm.
Coldness overtook his eyes. “Was this Torvald’s doing?”
“A child should not be painted by such foul colors.”
“I don’t want to go back.” The words barely pushed past the thickness filling her throat.
Rompell dropped his gloved hand as a softness filled his eyes. “I am no more than a street magician, but I will find you a better place.”
He held out his palm. Adeline swallowed before taking it. His grip was sure and strong.
“First, is there anything of yours at Torvald’s?”
“My mother―her chest. It has pictures and―”
“We will collect what is yours, Little One.”
She clung to his arm as he led her to the exit. The wind blew with fury and ice as they stepped outside. He wrapped a scarf around his own head before bundling her in his coat. Gripping her hand, he led her into the street. She nearly fell into the slush, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her to safe ground.
Shutters clanked in the wind as they walked the dark streets. At last, they reached Mr. Torvald’s house and Rompell pounded on the door. Cursing sputtered on the other side as a light turned on. Adeline jumped as Mr. Torvald slammed the door open and glared at Rompell.
“Good evening, sir.” Rompell’s voice was warm and booming. “I am Rompell, Master Magician and Traveling Wizard.” He bowed with a flourish.
“What are you bothering me for?” Mr. Torvald said.
“I was passing through the street, when I found this remarkable girl. I need such a child for my act. She says you have her possessions.”
Mr. Torvald’s bloodshot eyes glared at Adeline. “She’s got nothing. In fact, she owes me.”
Rompell flipped a coin in the air. “If I pay her debt, will you give me her mother’s chest?”
“That’s mine, along with the girl.” He moved toward Adeline, but Rompell stepped in his way.
“I will pay a handsome sum for her, along with her mother’s chest.”
Mr. Torvald scratched his bulging stomach and eyed Rompell. The Sandarian smiled as he raised one hand and poured coins into the other.
Mr. Torvald watched the shower of gleaming coins adding until Rompell clapped his hands together. His hands spread apart and the money was gone. Adeline scanned the air, looking for hints of his magic. He kept it hidden better than she could.
With a grunt, Mr. Torvald said, “Come inside.”
Adeline wiped her face with her sleeve and tried to keep calm. She clung to Rompell’s hand as he led her inside.
The room was dark, as always, and Mr. Torvald’s wife snored upstairs. Adeline shook at seeing the stairs leading to the attic where her mother had died. Sitting on a cluttered shelf by the mantle, was her mother’s chest, no longer than Adeline’s forearm. The wood was scratched around the latch where Mr. Torvald had tried to open it.
“She’s a dear child,” Mr. Torvald said as he went to a cabinet. “I can’t imagine parting with her.”
Rompell kept his face interested but unimpressed. From his pocket, he pulled a hefty stack of cash, adding up to at least a few hundred macs. Adeline stared at the money. His clothes were patched and worn, giving no sign of having so much.
“Will this ease your pain, sir?”
“Won’t it be suspicious,” Mr. Torvald said, licking his lips as he slowly opened a drawer, “if the police hear of a Sandarian man running about buying children.”
“You wish me to buy your silence?”
Rompell stepped back as Mr. Torvald ripped a pistol from the drawer. Adeline squealed and hid herself against Rompell’s leg.
“I think you’ll hand over all the money you carry and leave.”
Rompell held his palms in front of him. “I did not come for trouble. I can pay you double, if you wish.”
Mr. Torvald jabbed the pistol at Rompell. “Turn out your pockets.”
Adeline took a breath. This was her only chance. She sang out a quiet note, sending a chair falling into Mr. Torvald. He yelled and shoved the chair away. Rompell took the distraction to grab the man’s arm and shove him against the wall. Twisting Mr. Torvald’s wrist, Rompell forced him to drop the gun. Mr. Torvald snarled and fought against Rompell’s grip.
“This child is under my protection,” Rompell growled. “Do not come near her again.”
Mr. Torvald cursed at Rompell before saying, “I’ll find you and rip your hide.”
Rompell jerked Mr. Torvald’s arm back. Adeline cringed as a crack echoed through the room. Mr. Torvald let out a wheezing whimper.
“I have only dislocated your shoulder. Any doctor will be able to assist you.”
Mr. Torvald’s legs began to slump. Rompell slapped his hand across the back of Mr. Torvald’s head. The middle-aged man’s face knocked into the wall. Rompell stepped back, letting him collapse onto the floor.
Adeline stared at the sinews on Mr. Torvald’s arms as he lay still, waiting for him to rise again. Rompell slid the coins and money into his pocket.
“Where is your mother’s chest?”
Adeline pointed. Rompell grabbed the chest and held it under his arm before offering his gloved hand to her. She shook as she stared up at him.
“We must go, Little One.”
Adeline swallowed before taking his firm hand. He led her outside, keeping an arm around her to stop the gale of wind from knocking her over. The dark streets blurred together as he led her closer to the wharf near Lake Chalice. He took her to the side entrance of a warehouse.
Holding out his hand, he whispered a few words. A spark of light flared and the chain blocking the door fell open.
“We can’t―” she whispered as she glanced down the street for guards.
“It is mine.” He opened the door and motioned for her to enter.
Inside were a few large crates illuminated by the street’s gaslights gleaming through the dirty windows. Adeline kept close to Rompell as she shivered, the stone walls seeming colder than the wind outside. He led her to a corner closed off with old blankets hanging from ropes. He pulled back a blanket and bowed to her.
“Tonight’s palace, Little One.”
Worn silk cushions covered the floor, the embroidery faded. Several thick quilts were piled in a corner near a small warming stove. Rompell placed a few pieces of coal in the stove along with some rolled up papers. He waved his hand over the papers as a fire flared from his wrist.
Adeline’s eyes drew up to his face, her mother’s bedtime stories of magic and sorcery running through her head. She felt she should be nervous, but the warmth in his eyes calmed her. Rompell gave her a quick smile before patting the cushions. Adeline curled up beside the stove and watched the fire grow. He breathed on it and shut the grate. He helped her pull off the coat and her shoes before wrapping her in one of the thick blankets.
As he turned to leave, Adeline said, “I know who you are.”
His back went stiff and he turned around, his face shadowed.
“And who am I?”
“You are a genie.”
Rompell laughed. “You have found me out, Little One.” He leaned closer, his voice turning to a whisper. “And as mistress of my secret, I must grant you three wishes.”
Her eyes widened. Rompell pulled a tarnished coin from his pocket and placed it in her hand. On one side was an eagle. On the other, was an engraving of Rompell’s face as a younger man.
“When you are ready to make your wish, rub the coin and sing my name three times.” He pulled his gloved hand away. “Now, young mistress, what is your first wish?”
She held the coin tightly. “I can wish for anything?”
“Within reason. I am not a powerful genie.”
Her tongue pressed against her teeth as she thought. Once her wish was carefully chosen, she shut her eyes and ran her thumbs over the coin. “Rompell, Rompell, Rompell.”
“What is your command?”
She opened her eyes. Rompell knelt on one knee as he bowed to her. She held the coin tight to her chest as she said, “I want a home.”
Rompell arched his arms over his head and ran his hands through a series of shapes and secretive motions. He held his palm to his mouth and blew. A cloud of glitter flew over Adeline. He cupped his hand to his ear as if listening to something.
“The Powers have agreed to your wish, Miss Adeline, but on one condition.”
“You must answer this riddle: Why is the sky so happy?”
Looking down at her hands, she said, “Because it is beautiful at sunrise and sunset?”
Rompell smiled as he shook his head. “It is a good answer, Little One, but not the right one.” He leaned toward her and whispered, “It is because both the sun and moon beam.
“The sun will keep you warm on the coldest of days and the moon will guide you to home and safety.” He rubbed his gloved hands together. “Fortunately, the Powers are merciful.”
He stood. “Sleep well, Miss Adeline. Tomorrow, I will grant your wish.”
With a flourish, he stepped out and closed the moth-eaten curtains. Adeline smiled as she snuggled into the cushions and blankets. She was here, safe with her genie. Shutting her eyes, all of the pain of the past few months ebbed away as she fell to sleep.
Thank you for reading this excerpt of The Matchgirl and the Magician (Book 3 of The Pippington Tales) – available now in ebook and print.